21 May 2013

On Classifications, Competitions and Winning

One of my early posts here was about shooting your own match and finding the "win" that matters most to you. At some point, moving up in classification or winning matches becomes important or at least interesting to many of us. I believe these are important goals even if we aren't interested in "being competitive" for the sake of bragging rights.

Classification is not just a way to compare yourself to other shooters. It can also be a tool to objectively measure progress and discover weak spots in your skills. The core of IDPA's classification system is based on each shooter's performance in a single specified course of fire. As your total time decreases, your classification increases from Novice through Marksman, Sharpshooter, Expert and finally, Master. Trying to reach a specific classification is a tangible goal that can help keep you motivated to practice more, and actually making the class you're going after can create a great sense of accomplishment to reward your efforts. Even if you don't make a specific class goal, you can still see if your overall skillset is improving by tracking your classifier total, stage and string times.

In USPSA, the classification system pools shooters together to tell you where you are relative to others. In that sense, it is very much a ranking system. USPSA categorizes percentages into Grand Master, Master, and A through D classes, but you can track your percentage within each class. Due to the number of scores that are calculated into your classification, your percentage may only inch up over a season or even years but the trend of your scores over time and your results  in some types of classifiers over others can tell you quite a bit. You may not have made the bump into B yet, but moving from being a 45% C-class shooter to a 55% C-class shooter is still significant. And if your results are consistently lower in strong-hand-only stages or stages with required reloads, then you know what you need to work on next time you dry fire.

Similarly, trying to win matches isn't just about trophies and prizes. As you shoot with a community of competitors over time, you will get a sense of who is at about the same level as you are, and who you aspire to shoot like. Matches can be an outside measuring stick to help you and your friends continue to compare skills and to push each other. It's not about wanting to beat others and come out on top of the pile, but about benchmarking your progress against a standard - your friends' performances - that is more tangible than what shows up on a shot timer. I've found that through regular matches, my shooting buddies have improved as a group, making all of us more efficient and more accurate than any one of us training alone might have achieved.  This sort of friendly competition isn't mean-spirited and you can continue to celebrate each others' results even if you are disappointed with your own.

Classification and competition aren't always viewed positively. I don't agree that chasing classes and wins is necessarily a bad thing, though, because they can be proxies for understanding how your skills are developing and tools to encourage you to continually improve your abilities. You might not make Master and you might not win High Overall, but the journey of working towards those types of goals can help make you a stronger, more well-rounded shooter.